Dr. John Gottman provides five easy steps for parents who want to be emotion “coaches”:
Parents who emotion coach are aware of their own feelings and sensitive to the emotions present in their children. They do not require their child to amp up their emotional expression for the feelings to be acknowledged.
Step 2: See emotions as an opportunity for connection and teaching.
Children’s emotions are not an inconvenience or a challenge. They are an opportunity to connect with your child and coach them through a challenging feeling. Instead of, “that’s not something to cry about”, simply state, “I know, that makes you really sad”.
Step 3: Listen and validate the feelings.
Give your child your full attention while you listen to their emotional expression. Reflect back what you hear, thus telling your child you understand what they’re seeing and experiencing.
Step 4: Label their emotions.
After you have fully listened, help your child develop an awareness of and vocabulary for their emotional expression.
Step 5: Help your child problem-solve with limits.
All emotions are acceptable but all behaviors are not. Help your child cope with his or her emotions by developing problem-solving skills. Limit the expression to appropriate behaviors. This involves helping your child set goals and generating solutions to reach those goals.
Remember, emotional intelligence is not necessarily intuitive and natural. Parents play a crucial role in role-modeling and coaching skills that may otherwise never be fully developed. If you would like more information or would like assistance in coaching your child, please contact a mental health professional.
Gottman, J. M., & DeClaire, J. (1997). Raising an emotionally intelligent child. New York, N.Y.: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks.